Year in Review: 8 Biggest News Stories of 2015

Thousands of people gather at Republique Square in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Thousands of people began filling France’s iconic Republique plaza, and world leaders converged on Paris in a rally of defiance and sorrow on Sunday to honor the 17 victims of three days of bloodshed that left France on alert for more violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)


(ABC News) — From start to finish, many of this year’s biggest news stories were centered around violence, terror threats or a general sense of fear.

The year began with a targeted terror strike in Paris and closed out with another planned attack in California, proving that threats around the globe remain an issue for all.

Domestically, mass shootings caused heartbreak and continuing the debate between those calling for stricter gun control and others arguing for the right to bear arms.

Here is a list of some of the biggest news stories of 2015.

1. Deaths by Police Officers

Attorneys for Walter Scott's family, L. Chris Stewart, center, and Justin T. Bamberg, right, answers questions during a news conference after a bail hearing for former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. Slager is being held for the shooting of Walter Scott after a traffic stop. A judge reached no decision Thursday on whether to grant bail for Slager, a white former police officer charged with killing an unarmed black man following a traffic stop in coastal South Carolina. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Attorneys for Walter Scott’s family, L. Chris Stewart, center, and Justin T. Bamberg, right, answers questions during a news conference after a bail hearing for former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. Slager is being held for the shooting of Walter Scott after a traffic stop. A judge reached no decision Thursday on whether to grant bail for Slager, a white former police officer charged with killing an unarmed black man following a traffic stop in coastal South Carolina. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin led to the creation of #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner among others by police officers in Missouri and New York, respectively, carried the outrage through 2014. It was the deaths of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, both at the hands of police officers, that fueled the outcry in 2015. Scott was fatally shot by a police officer following a traffic stop in South Carolina on April 4. Footage of the incident was recorded by a bystander that appeared to show Scott, who was unarmed, running away from the officer, identified later as Michael Slager. Slager was arrested three days after Scott’s death and charged with murder. His attorney says that Slager insists he is not guilty.

Just over a week later, in Baltimore, a man named Freddie Gray was picked up by police and put in a police transport vehicle without being properly strapped in. He suffered spinal injuries during the ride, which led to his death. Protests, some of them violent, erupted across Baltimore. After Gray’s death was ruled a homicide on May 1, six police officers were charged in connection to his death. All have pleaded not guilty. The first officer’s trial just concluded with a hung jury. A retrial is set for next June, after the other five officers are tried.

Chicago police also came under scrutiny for alleged misuse of force this year after footage of an October 2014 fatal shooting by police was released in November of this year following a court order. The video showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being hit 16 times. The officer involved in that shooting, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with his murder and has pleaded not guilty. Public criticism of the way authorities handled this case resulted in the firing of Chicago’s police superintendent, and a public apology from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

2. Prison Escape in New York

David Sweat (left) and Richard Matt (right) (Photos: New York State Police via AP)
David Sweat (left) and Richard Matt (right) (Photos: New York State Police via AP)

One of the biggest stories of the summer seemed like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. It involved two prisoners, a sexual liaison with a prison worker who smuggled tools hidden in frozen meat and a midnight escape with a smiley-faced getaway note. David Sweat and Richard Matt, both convicted murderers, escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, crawling out of sewage pipes and digging through cell walls a la “The Shawshank Redemption.”

A huge manhunt took place over much of northern New York for the next three weeks. Law enforcement officers shot and killed Matt on June 26. They found Sweat two days later; in November, he pleaded guilty to all charges related to his escape.

The prison seamstress, Joyce Mitchell, was arrested and admitted to having had a sexual relationship with Matt, along with providing the tools. She was sentenced to up to 7 years in prison. Corrections officer Gene Palmer was charged with assisting the pair of inmates to escape. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

3. Charleston Church Shooting

Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

One of this year’s deadliest mass shootings struck a particularly heartbreaking chord because of its location: inside a church. The shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church in June caused national mourning and outrage, after a 21-year-old, reportedly with white supremacist beliefs, attended a Bible study session at the famed predominantly African-American church before allegedly opening fire on the group. The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, was apprehended the morning after the June 17 attack and is awaiting trial on 33 counts, including murder and firearms charges, as well as federal hate crime charges. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The shooting and Roof’s purported racist beliefs prompted a debate over the state’s continued use of the Confederate Battle Flag at South Carolina’s Capitol. After heated debate, the state legislature voted to have the flag taken down. It will be exhibited at a nearby museum.

4. On-Air Shooting in Virginia

Virginia State Police confirm Vester Flanagan, AKA Bryce Williams (center) is the suspect in the fatal shootings of reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward (Photo:Twitter/kobijv)
Virginia State Police confirm Vester Flanagan, AKA Bryce Williams (center) is the suspect in the fatal shootings of reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward (Photo:Twitter/kobijv)

The gunman in another tragic shooting claimed it was the racism of the Charleston church shooting that prompted him to create a scene of carnage in the late summer. Vester Lee Flanagan, a disgruntled former news anchor, shot two of his former colleagues while they were on the air on location for a Roanoke, Virginia, TV station. The Aug. 26 shooting left reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward dead. Flanagan later posted a video on social media of the shooting that he appeared to have filmed during the attack using a portable camera. He also sent a manifesto and called ABC News after the shooting. He shot himself to death during a car chase with police later that day.

5. Same-Sex Marriage Debate

John Becker, 30, of Silver Spring, Md., waves a rainbow flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday June 25, 2015. The same-sex marriage ruling is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
John Becker, 30, of Silver Spring, Md., waves a rainbow flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday June 25, 2015. The same-sex marriage ruling is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Supreme Court made a landmark decision in June, voting to allow same-sex couples to marry nationwide. The 5-4 decision was praised by many, including President Obama, who called it a “victory for America.” But not everyone was pleased with the decision. A county clerk in Kentucky became a touchstone for the national debate after she claimed it was against her religious beliefs to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis was jailed for nearly a week for defying a judge’s order to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County.

6. Pope Francis Visits the US

Pope Francis arrives in the popemobile at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, for the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra. (Doug Mills/New York Times via AP, Pool)
Pope Francis arrives in the popemobile at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, for the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra. (Doug Mills/New York Times via AP, Pool)

One of the biggest moments of national excitement came when Pope Francis made his inaugural visit to the United States, sweeping the country up in a serious case of Pope-mania. His visit started in Washington, D.C., after a trip to Cuba, and he went on to visit New York and Philadelphia before returning to the Vatican. Some of the highlights of the trip included a historic address to Congress, frequent rides in his Fiat and a particularly memorable moment shared with a baby girl dressed up like a pope.

7. Terror Attack in Paris

Flowers are set in a window shattered by a bullet at the Carillon cafe in Paris, France, Sunday Nov. 15, 2015, two days  after over 120 people were killed  in a series of shooting and explosions.  French troops deployed around Paris on Sunday and tourist sites stood shuttered in one of the most visited cities on Earth while investigators questioned the relatives of a suspected suicide bomber involved in the country's deadliest violence since World War II.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Flowers are set in a window shattered by a bullet at the Carillon cafe in Paris, France, Sunday Nov. 15, 2015, two days after over 120 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions. French troops deployed around Paris on Sunday and tourist sites stood shuttered in one of the most visited cities on Earth while investigators questioned the relatives of a suspected suicide bomber involved in the country’s deadliest violence since World War II.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A series of coordinated terror attacks struck fear through the heart of the French capital on Friday Nov. 13. A combination of shooters and men wearing explosive vests targeted a football stadium, restaurants and a concert venue that evening, leaving 130 people dead.

French officials determined that the attackers had ties to ISIS, which has claimed responsibility. The alleged ringleader of the attacks was killed five days later when authorities raided his apartment in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. An international manhunt is still underway at this time for at least one other suspect.

This year has been rife with terror attacks and thwarted incidents in France, starting with the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January but followed by at least two other incidents that were stopped before the casualty count jumped. One occurred in April, when a man suspected of planning an “imminent” attack in and around Paris was taken into custody after allegedly randomly killing a woman but also shooting himself, prompting him to call for an ambulance. Then in August, three American friends on vacation – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone – helped thwart a would-be attacker on a train heading to Paris from Amsterdam.

8. Mass shootings (Roseburg, Lafayette, Chattanooga, Planned Parenthood, San Bernardino)

At least fourteen people died when two shooters sprayed bullets in a San Bernardino social services center Wednesday, December 2, 2015
At least fourteen people died when two shooters sprayed bullets in a San Bernardino social services center Wednesday, December 2, 2015

From a college campus in Roseburg, Oregon, where 10 people were killed, or a military recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where five people died, to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that left three dead, shootings were an all-too-familiar occurrence in this calendar year. The deadliest came on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, California, where it’s alleged that a married couple opened fire at the Inland Regional Center during a Department of Public Health conference and holiday luncheon.

The San Bernardino shooting marked at least the 57th mass shooting this year where three or more people were killed, according to an ABC News analysis.

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